Methodical murder of 16 Afghans merits court martial: U.S. prosecutor

Tue Nov 13, 2012 5:41pm EST
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By Laura L. Myers

TACOMA, Washington (Reuters) - A decorated U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers carried out his rampage in a methodical manner and should face a court martial and, ultimately, the death penalty, a military prosecutor said on Tuesday.

Army Prosecutor Major Rob Stelle said that Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 39, ventured out of his remote camp in Afghanistan on two revenge-fueled forays over a five-hour period in March.

The prosecutor, speaking at a pre-trial hearing in Washington state, cited the "heinous, brutal, methodical despicable nature of these crimes" in urging a military officer hearing the case to recommend a court martial.

"Most despicable was the murdering of children in their own homes," Stelle said during his 10 minutes of closing arguments, adding that nine of the dead were children and five were younger than 5 years old.

The shootings in Afghanistan's Kandahar province marked the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on an individual U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War and damaged already strained U.S.-Afghan relations.

The government believes Bales was solely responsible for the deaths, and survivors have testified to seeing only a single U.S. soldier. But several indirect accounts have suggested that more than one soldier was involved.

A veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder, as well as charges of assault and wrongfully possessing and using steroids and alcohol while deployed.

He faces the possibility of the death penalty if a military commander decides to hold the court martial as a capital case.   Continued...

This courtroom artist's sketch shows Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' civilian attorney Emma Scanlan (R) giving her closing argument while presiding investigation officer Col. Lee Demecky (L) listens during the final day of the Article-32 proceedings for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (not pictured) at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on November 13, 2012. Bales is accused of killing Afghan villagers in a drunken rampage on March 11, 2012 and faces 16 counts of premeditated murder. REUTERS/Lois Silver